The Steve Jobs Nobody Knew

Page 2 of 5

Jobs recalled it as a place where everyone was tinkering away in their garages, building their own TVs and stereos with mail-order kits called Heathkits. "These Heathkits would come with these detailed manuals about how to put this thing together, and all the parts would be laid out in a certain way and color-coded," he said. "You'd actually build this thing yourself. It gave one an understanding of what was inside a finished product and how it worked. But maybe even more importantly, it gave one the sense that one could build the things that one saw around oneself in the universe. You looked at a tele-vision set and you would think, 'I haven't built one of those, but I could.' It gave a tremendous level of self-confidence."

When Jobs was 14, a neighbor introduced him to an older kid named Steve Wozniak who was building a little computer board he called the Cream Soda Computer. "Typically, it was really hard for me to explain to people the kind of design stuff I worked on," Wozniak later recalled. "But Steve got it right away. And I liked him. He was kind of skinny and wiry and full of energy."

Wozniak, five years older than Jobs, was a full-on geek: big, socially awkward, obsessed with electronics, a kind of genius at seeing how wires connected and how to make machines dance. Jobs was never as technically sophisticated, but he knew enough to be fascinated. He and Woz hung out in the way boys do, goofing off and playing pranks; they once hung a huge middle finger they had fashioned out of tie-dyed bedsheets on the school building. But they soon graduated to a pastime that barely had a name in those days: phone phreaking, one of the earliest forms of hacking. After reading an article in Esquire, Wozniak and Jobs figured out how to build small blue boxes that mimicked the tones used by phone operators – enabling users to place free long distance calls at will. According to legend, Wozniak used a blue box to phone the Vatican; adopting a German accent, he identified himself as Henry Kissinger and asked to speak to the pope.

Other geeky kids might have left it at that – a fun toy for impressing your friends with stupid pranks. But even then, Jobs saw the commercial potential in cool technology. He and Woz sold the boxes in the dorms on the Berkeley campus of the University of California, making some nice pocket money before giving it up for fear of getting busted. It was an early test run at entrepreneurship. Jobs later said that without the blue boxes, there would be no Apple.

In 1972, when he was 17, Jobs met a green-eyed bohemian girl named Chrisann Brennan who was a year behind him at Homestead High. They soon embarked on a big, messy teenage romance, taking LSD at school and talking about The Pri-mal Scream, a book by Arthur Janov. For Jobs, dropping acid was not only a means to living life more fully – it was a way to overcome the pain of being abandoned by his birth parents. "Steve explained to me how both LSD and primal screaming opened up stored trauma in the medulla," Chrisann writes in an unpublished memoir she shared with Rolling Stone. "He would repeatedly talk about Janov's ideas in regard to how mothers and fathers would fail to love their children and walk out on them in so many ways, creating and perpetuating trauma." Jobs was quiet and funny, so shy that Chrisann had to initiate kissing. He would play guitar for her in his bedroom, crooning like his hero, Bob Dylan. From the beginning, it was clear to Brennan that Jobs was going places. "He told me on our first or second date that he would be a millionaire someday, and I believed him," says Brennan. "Steve could see the future."

Unlike Wozniak, who was content to remain within the boundaries of his geeky life, Jobs was a searcher. He watched art movies and wrote poetry. He chased girls and had lots of sex. He experimented with sleep deprivation, fasting and drugs. "What is this I found in your car?" Paul Jobs asked his son at one point. Steve didn't even try to hide the truth. "That's marijuana, Father," he said. The summer after high school, Steve and Chrisann left home and moved into a cabin in the mountains above Cupertino, where Jobs typed late into the night, rewriting Dylan lyrics in his own words.

Jobs knew that his parents had promised his birth mother they would send him to college, and he took the obligation seriously. In 1972, he left Chrisann to enroll in Reed College, a private school in Oregon known for its free spirits and hippie vibe. But by the end of the first semester, he'd dropped out. "After six months, I couldn't see the value in it," he recalled. "I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK."

Jobs hung around Reed for another six months or so, auditing a class in calligraphy. It was hardly the kind of thing a budding entrepreneur would be expected to study, but Jobs was after enlightenment, not career advancement. "I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends' rooms," he later recalled. "I returned Coke bottles for the five-cent deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the seven miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it."

Jobs came to see himself as part of the tail end of the Sixties idealism. "We wanted to more richly experience why we were alive, not just make a better life," he said of his generation. "So people went in search of things. The great thing that came from that time was to realize that there was definitely more to life than the materialism of the late Fifties and early Sixties. We were going in search of something deeper."

At the time, it seemed that all young searchers ended up in the same place: India. At Reed, Jobs was introduced to the teachings of Neem Karoli Baba, an Indian guru whose ideas had been popularized by author Ram Dass in a best-seller called Be Here Now. Before long, Jobs had embarked on a pilgrimage to India to meet Baba, but the guru died shortly before he arrived. Jobs shaved his head, trekked through the Himalayas and spent a month living in a one-room cement hut on a potato farm. During his wanderings, overcome by the widespread poverty and suffering he encountered, he was struck by an insight that would prove central to his own reinvention, a subtle but significant shift from the spiritual to the practical: "It was one of the first times I started thinking that maybe Thomas Edison did a lot more to improve the world than Karl Marx and Neem Karoli Baba put together."

The story of the birth of Apple is so well-known that it can practically be recited by schoolchildren: the Homebrew Computer Club, Jobs and Wozniak building the first computer in his parents' garage, naming the company after an apple farm in Oregon that Jobs visited briefly when he returned from India. It's the stuff of Silicon Valley legend.

At Apple, the division of labor was clear: Wozniak was the technical brains, Jobs was the hustler. Jobs pushed Woz to finish his projects and scored the necessary parts at rock-bottom prices; he would later say he learned to negotiate by watching his dad haggle for auto parts at junkyards. From the start, it was Jobs who had the imagination to see that there was a business to be built on personal computers. In some ways, it was a measure of desperation: He was broke, and he needed money. In other ways, it was the extension of the Heathkit impulse that reigned in the Valley in those days: You could build anything, including your very own company.

For Jobs, the model of a successful startup was Atari, the video-game company where he had worked when he was saving money for his trip to India. But Jobs fused Atari's get-rich-quick entre-preneurialism with a Sixties seeking of enlightenment. Larry Brilliant, who met Jobs in India and later went on to run a variety of philanthropic ventures in the Valley, recalls asking Jobs why an idealistic guy like him was starting up a for-profit company. "Remember in the Sixties, when people were raising their fists and saying, 'Power to the people'?" Jobs told him. "Well, that's what I'm doing with Apple. By building affordable personal computers and putting one on every desk, in every hand, I'm giving people power. They don't have to go through the high priests of mainframe - they can access information themselves. They can steal fire from the mountain. And this is going to inspire far more change than any nonprofit."

It's an open question how much Jobs believed his own high-blown rhetoric, and how much of it was simply clever marketing spin. Either way, his fusion of idealism and technology was right for the times: Apple took off. Jobs was worth $10 million by the time he was 24; a year later, he was worth more than $100 million.

But as Apple ascended, Jobs changed. Friends say his temper grew shorter, and he began treating those around him badly. He had resumed his relationship with Brennan, and the two of them were living together in a house Jobs had rented not far from Apple. Then, just as Apple was taking off in 1977, Brennan became pregnant – and Jobs responded by pushing her out of his life. "He would not talk to me," she recalls. "He would only talk to his lawyer." Jobs refused to provide her with any financial help, yet he was violently opposed to her giving the baby up for adoption and had his friends pressure her not to have an abortion. After his daughter, Lisa, was born, Jobs was a distant father, dropping in on her infrequently. Brennan ended up renting an apartment for $225 a month and living on welfare. Jobs continued to deny paternity until it was confirmed by a DNA test.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

Culture Main Next

blog comments powered by Disqus
Around the Web
Powered By ZergNet
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.


We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.